Thursday, 2 December 2010

“Buddy And Ella Johnson 1953-1964” by BUDDY and ELLA JOHNSON. A Review Of The 1992 4CD Bear Family Box Set.

"…I Gotta A Girl…Well She Can’t Be Beat…She’d Be Real Pretty…If She Had Some Teeth…"

“Buddy And Ella Johnson 1953-1964” is a 4CD LP-Sized Box Set first released in Germany in 1992 by the legendary Bear Family reissue label and offers up 104 songs covering their Mercury, Roulette and Old Town Records output.

60 of the songs make up the entirety of their 5 big albums from the period – “Rock ‘N Roll” (1956), “Walkin’” (1957), “Buddy Johnson Wails” (1958), “Go Ahead & Rock Rock Rock” (1959) and “Swing Me” (1960) – while 26 more are non-album single sides (78’s and 45’s) - leaving the remaining 18 as previously unreleased. I’ve compiled a detailed LP Discography in the ‘comment’ section attached to this review referencing the tracks on the box set (and who sang lead on what etc).

Outside of that - Bear Family BCD 15479 breaks down as follows:
Disc 1, 26 Tracks, 75:22 minutes:
Four tracks are previously unreleased – “Bring It Up, Van Dyke” (9), “My Old Man” (10), “Shut Your Big Mouth (Girl)” (13) and “Mush Mouth” (14)

Disc 2, 27 Tracks, 71:54 minutes:
Two tracks are previously unreleased – “Someday” (2) and “Rock On (Alternate Take)” (26)

Disc 3, 24 Tracks, 65:08 minutes:
Four tracks are previously unreleased – “Far Cry” (21), “Lover Bird” (22), “No More” (23) and “Buddy’s Tune” (24)

Disc 4, 27 Tracks, 67:33 minutes:
Eight tracks are previously unreleased – “Have Mercy On A Fool” (6), “Buddy’s Song” (7), “Come Here, Lovely Dovey” (16), “Buddy’s Rock” (18), “I’ll Be Glad” (20), “Ever So Grateful” (22), “Don’t Be Messin’” (24) and “I Gotta Talk To Somebody” (26)

The 20-page booklet has an overview written by PETER GRENDYSA whose superb work featured in the booklets of the two US Chess Box Sets "Blues" and "Rhythm & Roll". There's black and white studio photos, trade adverts, live shots of the band with Buddy, family portraits, each of the CD inlays features an album sleeve in colour and the very detailed discography is by Bear Family's owner RICHARD WEISZ. The full page photo of Buddy and Ella with Alan Freed, Joe Turner and Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic Records is very tasty.

In 1953 South-Carolina born Buddy Johnson was 38 and a seasoned pro since the mid Thirties - Piano Player, Band Leader & Vocalist, his working Rhythm ‘n’ Blues Orchestra reigned supreme over the Southern circuit of the time. Along with other various crooners in the group (Floyd Ryland, Ricky Harper, Gil Askey, Nolan Lewis and Lee Thomas - see Discography) the other ace in the pack was his 30-year old sister ELLA JOHNSON who handled Lead Vocals on all of their big releases. Like a cross between Ruth Brown and Bessie Smith, she could imbibe a song with longing, sex, domestic abuse and heartache. In fact many of their albums followed a certain pattern – an Ella vocal first, then an Instrumental (usually featuring ace Saxophonist Purvis Henson), followed by a Nolan Lewis Vocal, then Buddy on Vocals, back to Ella - and so on. Their music rarely dipped into the Blues, but was instead rhythmic R’n’B with the horns to the fore – at times making it feel like a throwback to the Big Band period. The mix of smooth vocal tracks and danceable instrumentals made their albums a really varied listen – and as you rehear them now in 2010 – every fibre of your being is telling you that these are ‘forgotten gems’ that shouldn’t be. It really is shockingly good stuff – and lyrically as witty and clever as anything the beloved Louis Jordan pumped out in the decade earlier.

Favourites include “Hittin’ On Me”, “That’s How I Feel About You”, “(Gotta Go) Upside Your Head”, “I’m Just Your Fool” and the witty talking song “Rock On” (lyrics above). The previously unreleased material is far better than I had expected it to be - the Old Town outtakes “I Gotta Talk To Somebody” and “Don’t Be Messin’” with Ella on Lead Vocals are particularly catchy – hits in any decade.

The box is long-deleted and has acquired a crushing price tag – and in truth with subsequent releases (Ace Records of the UK have a 1996 CD with tracks not on here) – you can probably get the bulk of the tracks on 4 or 5 other CDs if you want. But this set is a very real reason as to why BEAR FAMILY is held in such affection and awe among collectors. It’s wonderful music, features great sound quality and all of it is presented with genuine respect shown…

A beautifully chronicled box set about a Rhythm ‘n’ Blues couple who deserved riches but ended up with a pittance. If you can go the cost, buy it – it’s an absolute gem.

PS: Thanks to Keith Mowser of Aquascutum, London for a lend of the set

Referencing "Buddy And Ella Johnson 1953-1964"
The 4CD 104-Track LP-Sized Box Set
Released 1992 on Bear Family BCD 15479
Featuring: Floyd Ryland, Ricky Harper, Gil Askey,
Nolan Lewis and Lee Thomas on Vocals
Purvis Henson on Tenor Saxophone
Sam "The Man" Taylor on Tenor Saxophone (4 tracks only)

[1/3] = Track 1 on Disc 3, [12/2] = Track 12 on Disc 2 etc

1. "Rock 'N Roll"
BUDDY JOHNSON And His Orchestra
USA 1956 Debut 12” LP on Mercury MG 20209 (Mono Only)
Reissued in the USA in 1962 1st on Wing MGW 12005 using the same picture on the cover. Then reissued in the USA in 1963 as "Rock 'N Roll Stage Show" on Wing MGW 12111 using a different sleeve. Consists of tracks between 1953 and 1956.
Side 1:
1. I Don't Want Nobody (To Have My Love But You) (Vocal Ella Johnson) [12/2]
2. Doot Doot Dow (Instrumental) [11/2]
3. Bring It Home To Me (vocal Ella Johnson) [14/2]
4. You Got It Made (vocal Floyd Ryland) [13/2]
5. A Pretty Girl (A Cadillac And Some Money) (vocal Ricky Harper) [17/1]
6. Any Day Now (vocal Ella Johnson) [16/1]
Side 2:
1. It's Obdacious (vocal Buddy Johnson and Gil Askey) [7/2]
2. Crazy 'Bout A Saxophone (vocal Buddy Johnson) [25/1]
3. (Gotta Go) Upside Your Head (vocal Ella Johnson) [1/2]
4. Ain't But One (vocal Ella Johnson) [18/1]
5. A-12 (Instrumental) [6/1]
6. I'm Just Your Fool (vocal Ella Johnson) [5/1]

2. "Walkin'"
USA 1957 12” LP on Mercury MG 20322 [Mono Only]
Side 1:
1. Rockin' Time (Instrumental) [1/3]
2. They Don't Want Me To Rock No More (vocal Ella Johnson) [2/3]
3. There's No One Like You (vocal Nolan Lewis) [19/1]
4. Rock On! (vocal Buddy Johnson) [27/2]
5. Ain't Cha Got Me (Where You Want Me) (vocal Ella Johnson) [8/1]
6. Buddy's Boogie (Instrumental) [15/2]
Side 2:
1. Oh! Baby Don't You Know (vocal by Group) [23/2]
2. You'd Better Believe Me (vocal Ella Johnson) [24/2]
3. You're Everything My Heart Desires (vocal Floyd Ryland) [25/2]
4. So Good (vocal Ella Johnson) [9/2]
5. Bitter Sweet (Instrumental) [24/1]
6. Gone Walkin' (Instrumental) [10/2]

3. “Buddy Johnson Wails”
BUUDY JOHNSON And His Orchestra
1958 USA 12” LP on Mercury MG-20330 (Mono)/SR-60072 (Stereo)
Reissued in the USA in the 1960s on Wing MGW-12234 (Mono)/SRW 16234 (Stereo)
Reissued in Denmark in 1988 on Official 6010 with a different sleeve
Side 1:
1. Goodbye Baby Here I Go (vocal by Ella Johnson) [12/3]
2. They All Say I'm The Biggest Fool (vocal by Floyd Ryland) [9/3]
3. I Don't Care Who Knows (vocal Ella Johnson) [13/3]
4. Lil' Dog (Instrumental) [19/3]
5. You'll Get Them Blues (vocal Ella Johnson) [14/3]
6. Since I Fell For You (vocal Ella Johnson) [17/3]
Side 2:
1. Baby Don't You Cry (vocal Floyd Ryland) [11/3]
2. Minglin' (Instrumental) [20/3]
3. Please Mr. Johnson (vocal Ella Johnson) [16/3]
4. I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone (vocal Floyd Ryland) [18/3]
5. I Cry (vocal Floyd Ryland) [10/3]
6. Stop Pretending (vocal Buddy Johnson) [15/3]

4. “Swing Me”
ELLA JOHNSON with Buddy Johnson And His Orchestra
USA 1960 12” LP on Mercury MG 20347 (Mono)
Ella Johnson Lead Vocals on All Tracks
Side 1:
1. What A Day [19/2]
2. That’s What You Gotta Do [21/2]
3. I Still Love You [22/2]
4. Well Do It [23/1]
5. Someday [3/2]
6. If You’d Said Yes [21/1]
Side 2:
1. Alright Okay You Win [4/2]
2. It’s ‘Bout To Break My Heart In Two [6/2]
3. Thinking It Over [20/1]
4. It Used To Hurt Me [22/1]
5. If You Would Only Say You’re Sorry [5/2]
6. Goodbye Baby Here I Go [20/2]

5. “Go Ahead & Rock Rock Rock”
USA 1959 12” LP on Roulette R 25085 (Stereo)/SR 25085 (Stereo)
Reissued in the 1960s in the USA on Forum 9022
Side 1:
1. Go Ahead And Rock (Instrumental) [13/4]
2. Real Fine Frame (Nellie Lutcher cover – vocal Buddy Johnson) [8/4]
3. Down Yonder (Instrumental) [12/4]
4. Get On Down The Road (vocal Ella Johnson) [14/4]
5. Sliding Horns (Instrumental) [15/4]
6. Don’t Fail Me Baby (vocal Ella Johnson) [1/4]
Side 2:
1. Walk ‘Em (vocal Buddy Johnson) [9/4]
2. You Better Change Your Ways (vocal Lee Thomas) [11/4]
3. Small Taste (Instrumental) [2/4]
4. I’m Tired Crying Over You (vocal Ella Johnson) [10/4]
5. Going To New York (Instrumental) [5/4]
6. Baby Hear My Humble Plea (vocal by Lee Thomas) [3/4]

6. “Rock 'N Roll Stage Show”
BUDDY JOHNSON And His Orchestra
USA 1963 12” LP on Wing MGW 12111 (Mono)
THIS IS A REISSUE of 1 using a different name – see 1 for details

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